Last year, the number of traffic fatalities in America fell to the lowest levels since 1949.
But even in the best year on record, tens of thousands of lives were lost on American roads – and hundreds of thousands more suffered serious injury. So I want to thank everyone taking part this week in the 22nd International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles for their efforts to help make our roads safer.
This biennial event, sponsored by DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is an opportunity for experts from around the globe to exchange innovative vehicle safety research technologies and real world data to help save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle-related crashes.
In addition to hearing from some of the smartest safety experts from around the world, I had the opportunity to speak about how DOT is working to make cars, roadways, and drivers safer.
NHTSA’s new, tougher five-star crash safety rating system combines all of a car’s safety ratings into an overall vehicle score. More stars means safer cars.
And DOT has allotted more than $1 billion in the last two years alone to road projects that are improving traffic management and installing hundreds of miles of rumble strips and cable medians. We’ve also required that highway projects built with Recovery Act funds include wider shoulders and more effective guardrails.
In addition to promoting safer cars and roadways, DOT has also been working hard to promote safer driving.
When we held our first distracted driving summit in 2009, only 12 states and Guam had texting bans in place. Today, 33 states, Guam, and Washington, DC, have outlawed texting behind the wheel with eight states, DC, and the Virgin Islands banning handheld cell-phone use for all drivers. To support those laws, we’ve also launched two very effective pilot enforcement programs that have dramatically reduced distracted driving in Hartford, Connecticut, and Syracuse, New York.
Through a combination of good laws, public education, and tough enforcement, we’ve learned over the years that drivers can and do change their unsafe behaviors.
Since we started our “Click It or Ticket” program, 85 percent of Americans now buckle up when they get in their cars, up from 60 percent only 15 years ago.
We’ve also reminded Americans that if they’re over the limit, then they’ll be under arrest. And although driving under the influence is still a serious problem, we’ve seen drunk driving fatalities decline by almost 20 percent between 2006 and 2009.
But we will not rest on our laurels.
Even one traffic death or injury is one too many. DOT is proud to partner with safety leaders from around the world, and we will continue working hard to keep people safe on America's roadways.